Unlike the seemingly carefree makers of novelty records of decades past, its new breed of purveyors were embodied by charlatans who not only believed they were actually artists but were quite serious about obtaining fame and plastic stardom. And more often then not, reached their goals.
Many of those lucky (?) enough to achieve blog-fueled, internet popularity—which in most cases faded as soon as it had arrived—were aided by impressive advances in modern technology, which not only made it possible for any clown with a laptop to fancy themselves musicians, but also, paradoxically, pushed the music business paradigm back into a pseudo 1950s reality, one in which certain artists were more beholden than ever before to their record company overlords. Or were so scared of the bleak new world they decided to give away their music practically for free after years of seeking fair remuneration for their recorded efforts.
On a personal level we saw NYC, and specifically our beloved Brooklyn, become the toast of the music world early on in the decade. As musicians/music geeks with a sense of history we'd been longingly anticipating a time when the New York music scene would once again be the center of the industry universe. Like the '70s CBGB/punk/no wave era. Or the late '80s/early '90s hardcore scene. What we got instead was likes of The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Mooney Suzuki. (TV on the Radio was a blessing, tho.)
It wasn’t all bad, of course: many established artists took the reigns of their careers and cut out the meddling, oppressive middle man with mostly positive results; some great albums of all stripes were made along the way; and music itself is more popular than ever, with live music once again returning to its past prominence.
So how will this decade be judged years or even decades removed from the present? Speaking in terms of popular music and pop culture, the defining characteristics of the last few decades aren’t perfectly aligned chronologically: the 1970s didn’t really get going until ‘72 or ‘73; it wasn’t until 1984, more or less, that what is perceived as “the ‘80s” began in earnest; depending on who you ask, the ‘90s can mean the alt/grunge ‘92-‘96 span or the boy band/nü-metal two-headed monster of the decade’s final years.
Regardless of whether these last ten years might be looked back on as a brief continuation of the ‘90s, followed by a mish-mash of disorganized strands or unfocused post-modern nonsense, it stands to reason that, quite possibly, the means by which it was created and disseminated will overshadow judgment of the music itself. Of course we firmly believe–or rather, fervently hope, for what it's worth–sooner, rather than later, many will look back and mutter to themselves "Animal Collective? Fiery Furnaces? Vampire Weekend? What were we thinking?!" That would be a good thing.
Too much stuff went down over the last ten years. (Oh, and yes, lest we forget: whatever happened to the Coldplay wannabes like Aqualung, Athlete, Belarus, Embrace, Keane, Starsailor, etc. etc?)
But before we get deep into what captured our attention the most, here are our favorite albums from each of the last 10 years:
2000 – AIMEE MANN Bachelor No.2 [Superego]
2001 – JON BRION Meaningless [Straight to Cut Out]
2002 – BECK Sea Change [DGC]
2003 – NADA SURF Let Go [Barsuk]
2004 – MATTHEW SWEET Kimi Ga Suki [RCAM]
2005 – FREELOADER Cantina Claqueur [JSS]
2006 – THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers [Third Man/V2]
2007 – IRON & WINE The Shepherd's Dog [SubPop]
2008 – AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB The Golden Age [Merge]
2009 – PEARL JAM Backspacer [Monkeywrench/Island]
Ryan Adams Love is Hell [Lost Highway-2004]
Andre 3000 The Love Below [LaFace-2003]
Audioslave (self-titled) [Interscope-2002]
Broken Social Scene Feel Good Lost [Arts & Crafts-2003]
Café Tacuba SiNo [Universal Latino-2007]
Death Cab for Cutie Transatlanticsm [Barsuk-2003]
Robert Downey Jr. The Futurist [Sony Classical-2004]
Flaming Lips Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots [Warner Bros-2002]
Sean Jones Gemini [Mack Avenue-2005]
Jumbo D.D. y Ponle Play [BMG US Latin-2001]
The Lemonheads (self-titled) [Vagrant-2006]
Lightning Bolt Wonderful Rainbow [Load-2003]
The Mars Volta The Bedlam in Goliath [Universal-2008]
Jason Moran The Bandwagon: Live at the Village Vanguard [Blue Note-2003]
Dave Navarro Trust No One [Capitol-2001]
The Noisettes What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? [Universal-2007]
P.O.S. Never Better [Rhymesayers-2009]
A Perfect Circle Mer de Noms [Virgin-2000]
Prefuse 73 Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives [Warp-2001]
Queens of the Stone Age Rated R [Interscope-2000]
Radiohead Hail to the Thief [Parlophone-2003]
Rollins Band Nice [Sanctuary-2001]
Elliott Smith Figure 8 [Dreamworks-2000]
Sonic Youth Murray Street [DGC-2002]
Sun Kil Moon Ghosts of the Great Highway [Caldo Verde-2003]
Super Furry Animals Rings Around the World [Epic-2001]
U2 All That You Can't Leave Behind [Island-2000]
The Webb Brothers Maroon [Warner Bros-2000]
Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonesuch-2002]
Zurdok Hombre Sintetizador [Universal Latino-2000]
If we were to pick one from this bunch, to be our FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE DECADE it would have to be among the records released between 2001 and 2006 on the first list of favorites above.
But we simply cannot choose between the pop perfection on Brion’s lone solo disc; Beck’s late-night classic; Nada Surf’s comeback and finest record to date; Sweet at his most vibrant this decade; the farewell release from NYC’s Freeloader; or the debut from one of our favorite new artists of the last 10 years. (If we absolutely had to, we'd narrow it down to two: Sea Change and Let Go, but only with a gun to our heads.)
MOST REPRESENTATIVE ALBUM OF THE DECADE:
Katy Perry One of the Boys [Capitol-2008]
We’ll leave it to the All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine to explain:
Listening to Katy Perry's litany of belched alphabets, fruity boyfriends, Vegas hangovers, and lesbian lip-locks on her debut, One of the Boys, it's easy to assume she'll do anything for attention…[S]inging with the desperation of a fading burlesque star twice her age…Perry's shameless pandering on One of the Boys is startling, particularly as it comes in the form of some ungodly hybrid of Alanis Morissette's caterwauling and the cold calculation of Britney Spears in her prime.Runner up:
[Perry] distills every reprehensible thing about the age of The Hills into one pop album. She disses her boyfriend with gay-baiting; she makes out with a girl and she's doesn't even like girls; she brags to a suitor that he can't afford her, parties till she's face-down in the porcelain, drops brands as if they were weapons, curses casually, and trades under-the-table favors. In short, she's styled herself as a Montag monster.
Perry is not untalented…but that only accentuates how her vile wild-child persona is an artifice designed to get her the stardom she craves. Maybe if the music were as trashy as the style, she could get away with it, as it would have a junky thrill, but…her heart isn't in it; she's just using it to get her places, so she sinks to crass, craven depths that turn One of the Boys into a grotesque emblem of all the wretched excesses of this decade.
Kevin Federline Playing with Fire [Reincarnate-2006]
Brooke Hogan The Redemption [SoBe-2009]
a tie between
The Mars Volta, and The Raconteurs
TV on the Radio
Runner up: Lady Gaga
There's plenty of descriptions of our dislike for the Upper West Side preppy quartet elsewhere on this blog, so we'll spare you.
And we really don't care for Gaga one way or the other except to say she's a testament to 21st century hype and a more media savvy incarnation of Dale Bozzio, who has arrived to fill the weak, manufactured outrage vacuum left by Madonna's eventual irrelevance.
MOST WELCOME COMEBACK:
An old ‘90s mainstay reclaiming its turf with a kick-ass, self-titled comeback album rivaled in their catalog only by the beloved It's A Shame About Ray [Atlantic-1992]. And some pretty cool shows to promote it, too.
American Music Club
My Bloody Valentine
Sunny Day Real Estate
MOST CONTROVERSIAL COMEBACK ALBUM:
Guns 'n' Roses Chinese Democracy [Geffen-2008]
The most talked about album of the decade—and quite likely, the last of the "event" records; the last grandiose album of the 20th century—finally saw the light of day. The over-the-top Chinese Democracy is a reminder of a time when—however self-indulgent—artists had true ambition and were willing to take risks and follow their muse, no matter what.
But…was it worth the wait? Nope. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. And after that long of a delay nothing short of a magnum opus could make up for it. But it's a solid rock record and a lot better than anyone ever expected it to be.
More importantly, it's the result of an uncompromising artist who, love him or hate him, chose to make Chinese Democracy his way or the highway, and followed through on his vision.
MOST DISAPPOINTING COMEBACK ALBUM:
The Stooges The Weirdness [Virgin-2007]
After 34 years, expectations for The Stooges' return to the studio were quite high. Unfortunately, the Steve Albini-produced The Weirdness turned out to be not only a nasty blemish on the influential Michigan band's recorded legacy, but with the death of guitarist Ron Asheton in January 2009, the truly final word on it, as well.
Big Star In Space [Ryko-2005]
Let’s clarify a bit: After a prolonged hiatus dating back to the mid ‘70s, Big Star has been semi-active since the mid ‘90s and we have absolutely no problem with that. (Hell, we even flew out to New Orleans to see them perform, New Year’s Eve 2000.) It’s this middling, Alex Chilton solo album under the Big Star name that is so frustrating. That the only redeeming moments on the album were written by the other guys in the band—guitarist Jon Auer and bassist Ken Stringfellow of The Posies; drummer Jody Stephens—says more about where Uncle Alex’s head was at the time than any of his songs on here.
MOST PLEASANT MUSICAL SURPRISE:
Robert Downey Jr The Futurist [Sony Classical-2004]
Actors routinely dabble in music attempting to live out rock star dreams; Downey Jr had already—and notoriously—partied like a rock star, so he finally took care of the music part of the equation with a satisfying, piano-based, singer/songwriter effort. Check it out sometime.
LEAST PLEASANT MUSICAL SURPRISE:
Discovering that the cheesy, faux-sleaze rock theme song to HBO's Entourage was actually a Jane's Addiction song. Lame.
BEST COVER SONG:
Hard Fi “Seven Nation Army”
As Jack White himself would demonstrate a year later, Hard Fi's dub rock cover is a great example of what the head Stripe could do with his songs when provided proper backing. Very cool.
Jon Auer “Gold Star For Robot Boy” (originally by Guided by Voices)
Jon Brion "Voices" (originally by Cheap Trick)
Ted Leo + Pharmacists "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" (originally by Split Enz)
Very Special Mention:
Mark Kozelek's breathtaking, solo acoustic, album-length tribute to AC/DC, What's Next to the Moon [Badman-2001], is a master lesson in reinterpretation for both veteran and aspiring performers alike.
It's incredibly rare that a collaboration between two artists we do not care for—especially, in this particular case, with said artists not actively participating in their mutual alliance—would produce such intoxicating results. But Freelancer Hellraiser's mash-up of The Strokes' "Hard to Explain" and Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" was, well, "A Stroke of Genius", indeed.
WORST COVER SONG:
There were plenty out there but Ted Nugent's live rendition of the Sam and Dave classic "Soul Man" is not only laughably incongruous but so horrible it has no competition.
Britney Spears "Satisfaction"
Velvet Revolver "Psycho Killer"
WORST ALBUM COVER:
Brooke Hogan The Redemption [SoBe-2009]
And the music is even worse...on the bright side, it sold a measly 10,000 copies. So there's that.
Dark Meat When the Shelter Came EP [Emergency Umbrella-2009]
Ted Nugent Love Grenade [Eagle-2007]
Weezer Raditude [DGC-2009]
FAVORITE SINGLES (in alphabetical order by artist):
Ryan Adams “Wonderwall”
Arctic Monkeys “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”
Armor for Sleep "Williamsburg"
At The Drive-In "One-Armed Scissor"
Death Cab for Cutie “The Sound of Settling”
Deftones “Change (in the House of Flies)”
Freelance Hellraiser "A Stroke of Genius"
Earl Greyhound "It's Over"
Green Day "Waiting"
Guided by Voices “Glad Girls”
Iron & Wine "Woman King"
JLS "Maco Jones"
Norah Jones "Don't Know Why"
Longwave "Wake Me When It's Over"
The Mars Volta “The Widow”
No Doubt "Simple Kind of Life"
The Noisettes “Don’t Give Up”
Outkast “Hey Ya!”
Pearl Jam “The Fixer”
A Perfect Circle “Judith”
Queens of the Stone Age "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret"
The Raconteurs “Steady as She Goes”
Radiohead “House of Cards”
The Roots featuring Cody Chestnutt "The Seed (2.0)"
Scarface "My Block"
Duncan Sheik "White Limousine"
Elliott Smith "Pretty (Ugly Before)"
Spoon “Don’t You Evah”
System of a Down "Chop Suey!"
TV on the Radio "Province"
U2 "Beautiful Day"
Weezer “Keep Fishin”
The White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl”
FAVORITE LIVE SHOW:
Matthew Sweet - Irving Plaza, NYC - 3/25/00
Touring in support of In Reverse, on this particular evening Sweet gave us what we've always considered the ideal performance. Why? The band was in top form; the sound was on-point; and Sweet performed 22 songs—7 from his then-current album and 15 from his catalog—so we got to hear almost everything a devoted fan would want to, within reason. (Maybe 5 tunes from In Reverse would've been enough, but hey…)
Ruben Blades - Prospect Park - BKNY - 7/14/01
Wilco / Sonic Youth - Central Park Summerstage, NYC - 6/27/03
Jumbo - Prospect Park - BKNY - 8/09/02
Yo La Tengo - Prospect Park - BKNY - 7/12/02
The Lemonheads - Southpaw - BKNY - 2/23/07
Chocolate Genius - Castle Clinton, NYC - 7/11/02
TV on the Radio - Prospect Park - BKNY - 6/30/06
FAVORITE CONCERT DVD:
Paul McCartney Back in the US [Capitol-2002]
60-year old legend performs one of the most impressive set lists in modern pop history, with the best backing band he's had since leaving his old mates in 1970.
The Concert for George [Rhino-2003]
There are way too many musical tributes filled with star-studded appearances cast, so to speak, with individuals that have little or nothing in common with the honoree, with an eye on the bottom line and not on paying proper homage.
Sure, this memorial concert for George Harrison includes performances of his songs by a classic rock who’s who: among them, Eric Clapton (who acts as musical director), Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston, and Ravi Shankar, as well as the comedy genius of the Monty Python crew. (Where was Bob Dylan?) But all of them had a personal and professional connection to Harrison, and it shows in this loving and moving tribute to the man and his music.
Children of Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuarón
An innovative and profound sci-fi flick; pregnant (no pun intended) with symbolism—it’s a modern-day nativity story of faith and hope amidst the bleakness and despair of a world fraught with infertility, chaos, terrorism, and jingoistic nationalism run amok—Children of Men may not have been a big deal at the box office, but Cuarón’s gem was one of the best flicks we’ve seen in a long, long time.
Amores Perros (2000)
Best in Show (2000)
Auto Focus (2002)
Mystic River (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Thank You for Smoking (2006)
The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Gran Torino (2008)
The Contender (2000)
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Ghost World (2001)
Igby Goes Down (2002)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
The Boys of 2nd Street Park (2003)
Old School (2003)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Mean Girls (2004)
American Gangster (2007)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Room (2003)
Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
Disclaimer: Because we are not professional film critics, and thus, do not have the time—nor, God forbid, the inclination—to see the hundreds of movies a year these brave folks subject themselves to, we researched what the general consensus was regarding worst films of the aughts and list here the ones among them we actually saw.
It seems we happen to have been quite lucky since that total came to just three. And in this case, it was definitely not a magic number.
As for the films themselves, let's just say that Tommy Wiseau, director of The Room, is the new Ed Wood. 'Nuff said.
Tom Green, on the other hand, is quite talented. But his Freddy Got Fingered is exactly what you'd expect from a man who filmed and publicly aired graphic scenes from his surgery for testicular cancer.
And finally, we believe there is an untold number of films worse than Catwoman; this one's just spectacularly mediocre and boring.
[Regarding the ones out there we haven't seen, so much has been said about the John Travolta vehicle and screen adaptation of the L. Ron Hubbard novel Battlefield Earth (2000)—unanimously negative, as far as we can tell—that we are almost looking forward to watching it. 'Almost' being the key word.]
MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIE:
OK, we'll admit we're damning him with faint praise but, truthfully, in lesser hands than Oliver Stone's, W would've been a successful endeavor. Perhaps. But that we expect so much more from him is the double-edged sword of the burden he bears as a brilliant filmmaker.
There were mountains of worse films, of course, and this one isn't even bad, but it suffered from being rushed—in order to precede the 2008 US presidential election—and it shows.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
The former is a 30 minute buddy comedy romp followed by 90 minutes of chick flick nonsense. Seemingly aware of this folly, the powers that be have Will Ferrell pointlessly appearing halfway through the movie, for no discernable reason other than to try and re-inject some humor into this lost cause. No dice.
Meanwhile, the latter flick is a Mike Judge vehicle (he of Beavis and Butthead, Office Space, and King of the Hill fame) with a great premise—500 years from now, centuries of rampant advertising, consumerism, and anti-intellectualism have turned humanity terminally stupid—that just didn't pan out and is, in fact, painful to watch.
* FAVORITE TV SHOW:
Chappelle’s Show (Comedy Central)
Forget the wildly popular catchphrases, try these skits on for size:
"Blind Supremacy" (a faux news feature about a blind, white supremacist, black man); "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories" (Murphy's recurring hilarious tales from the '80s featuring Rick James and Prince);
"The Niggar Family" (a white, Leave it to Beaver-type family with a surname that gets them into some interesting situations);
"PopCopy" (a scathing send-up of Kinko's);
"Samuel Jackson Beer" (a parody of Sam Adams beer commercials re-imagined with the famed actor as its spokesperson);
"Wayne Brady's Show" (the actor/comedian sheds his affable public image and turns into a disturbed, murderous character akin to Denzel Washington in Training Day); and of course, "The Racial Draft"
(a sports-type draft in which different ethnicities vie for celebrities of a different ethnicity, and which has to be seen to be believed).
Although only running for two seasons—and a truncated third—comedian Dave Chapelle humorously tackled issues of race like no one since Richard Pryor, and in the process created a hands down, comedy classic. Brilliant.
Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
The Life and Times of Tim (HBO)
The Office (NBC)
* [Had they not debuted in 1999, The West Wing (NBC), The Sopranos (HBO), and Family Guy (Fox), respectively, would've taken our top spots.]
FAVORITE RECORD REVIEW QUOTE:
From the All Music Guide’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine's intro to Kevin Federline's Playing with Fire:
"One day, either in this life or the next, Britney Spears will have to atone for unleashing Kevin Federline upon the world."
Andy Kellman, also from the All Music Guide, from his review of Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights [Matador-2002]:
"One might go into a review like this one wondering how many words will pass before Joy Division is brought up. In this case, the answer is 16."
MOST CLUELESS AUDIENCE:
The concertgoers who left Crosby Stills Nash & Young shows on the Deja Vu tour in protest, claiming the band was "too political"
One question: Who did these people think they were going to see? Seriously.
As David Crosby himself stated, "It's like going to an airshow and protesting planes." Jeez...
BIGGEST “WHY CRITICS ARE A JOKE” MOMENT:
Cluelessness and/or Arrogance?
Franz Ferdinand, The Dead 60s, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads, etc. etc. etc. were labeled as fresh and innovative, with a sound seemingly conjured fully formed out of nowhere, when in fact, they owed a very big chunk of their musical identity to none other than Wire, The Jam, The Clash, and even early XTC and U2 circa War.
Or these writers didn’t know (which makes them ignorant) or they didn’t care (which makes them arrogant and useless). Either way, they are a disgrace. You know who you are.
The fawning over Meg White’s drumming “skills”
BIGGEST MUSIC NEWS STORY:
The fall of the music industry as we’ve known it
[for more see every other post on this blog in the last few years]
Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want model
An interesting and controversial move by a mega artist—baby bands: attempt this at your own peril—that could well-afford to take the risk of letting consumers set their own price for the quintet’s self-released 2007 album In Rainbows.
But most observers failed to notice how much of a boon this actually was for Radiohead and how they shrewdly covered their assess throughout: the press they got for the move was massive and overwhelmingly positive; whatever monies they would “lose” from penny-pinching downloaders they made back in spades, not only with their rabid fan base purchasing the initial available downloads, but also the various—and expensive—deluxe versions of the album, as well as the regular CD itself, which was released in January 2008.
In the end, In Rainbows garnered positive reviews across the board; won two of the four Grammy Awards it was nominated for ("Best Alternative Music Album" and "Best Special Limited Edition Package"; the song “House of Cards” earned three nominations); and combined total sales of the album, in all formats, exceeded 3 million copies. Not too shabby.
MOST BITTERSWEET INNOVATION:
The portable MP3 player and digital music stores
Awesome to have easy access to purchasing millions of songs online, as well as a portable device that lets you carry upwards of 20,000 tunes everywhere you go. Beautiful.
But despite upgrades, MP3 tracks still have comparatively lousy sound quality and are significantly inferior to CDs in that regard. Bummer.
SADDEST MUSICAL DEVELOPMENT:
Hip-hop enters its hair-band phase
- Something masquerading as “emo” takes the modern-day goth kids by storm
- Interpol become an acclaimed and popular band while Longwave languish in semi-obscurity
[In case you're wondering, we've given up decrying the usage of beloved songs in TV ads; the practice is so ubiquitous these days—and has become the only source of non-touring income for many performers and songwriters—that to even bring it up is practically irrelevant. Still doesn't mean we dig it, though.]
"Live vs. Memorex"
This is the thing that baffles us: more and more people each day refuse to pay, say, $10 for an album but spend up to 10 times—or even way more—on a live show. (Many will, in certain instances, pony up $20+ for a "deluxe" vinyl version, however.)
Yet, aside from the uncertainty that is an intrinsic part of the concert experience—performers having an off-night, bad sight-lines, mediocre sound, etc. can all rear their ugly heads, individually or collectively—the quality of live performance has been watered down across the board by a myriad of performers who, clearly, were made for the studio-bound artist era. (That’s how Auto-Tune went from being a pitch-correction tool known to producers, engineers and recording artists to a commonly used term.) What gives?
The likes of Judd Apatow, Bo Burnham, Dane Cook, Sarah Silverman, Flight of the Conchords, etc. are considered funny.
WORST POP CULTURE DEVOLPMENT:
The rise of “reality” television
Bar none, this has got to be the absolute worst; the punk rock ethos taken to its ugliest conclusion: “Hey, if that talentless clown can be on TV and become famous, why can’t I?”
According to a 2007 article in The Economist, 1 of every 7 teenagers in the UK hoped to become famous via reality television. Need we say more?
FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE DECADE:
"I heard the title Vampire Weekend and I thought, 'Oh, man, that's gonna be great. I gotta see it.' And there are these guys with little Gap T-shirts on and I'm going, 'What happened to the balls in rock 'n' roll? Why are American bands so wimpy?'"
- Alice Cooper
"It’s Slippery When Wet with umlauts."
- Music scribe Todd Totale revisiting Dr. Feelgood, which Motley Crue played live in its entirety in the summer of '09.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN (by us, anyway):
Ryan Adams [but for how long?]
Armor For Sleep
At the Drive-In
The Dismemberment Plan
Ben Folds Five
Guided by Voices
The Mayfield Four
Oasis [will it last?]
Red House Painters
The Rollins Band